Flowlight: Moon - Eternal Stranger: Part One
This story is the sequel to my previous work, The Friend, and it would be best for you to read that first. This series is the introductory half of the beginning of the Flowlight Saga. It would be arrogant of me to assume you were impatient, but if you are, so am I...
This is the first part of one of the foretellings of the Great Eyrie Sage of Shenkuu, Four Left Feet – currently held in prison at the displeasure of the Emperor – as recited by his scribe, One Pugilistic Mootix. To avoid flagrant breaches of privacy, all true names have been censored.
The merchants of Shenkuu could travel all they liked across Neopia in their magnificent flying ships, selling their fine silks and medicinal tea to the privileged and discerning customer. But they could never come close to matching the profit margin of the merchants of the Central City marketplace, who could and would persuade the much more common specimen of customer, the casual shopper, to fork over a hard-earned 4,999,999 NP for what turned out to be an old rotten left shoe and a pinch of rainbow-coloured sand. And then come back for more.
Those were the few and the good. Then, there were the others.
The young green Shoyru wandered the forgotten alleyways of this marketplace, as he had been doing for some time. He was dressed in clothing that could only have been called flamboyant, though several ruder words no doubt exist that described it as well. It fit the bright colour of his skin, though, giving him an appearance more childish than it already was.
You could buy anything you wanted in Neopia Central, provided you knew where to look. Currently he was passing a wall of advertisements. One was handwritten: 'Buy Krazy Krunch Cereal! It's Krunch time!'
'Guaranteed to make your sense of humour haemorrhage!' the Shoyru felt like scribbling in underneath.
Further on he found a picture of a burly Moehog in an artist's idea of a captain's outfit, holding a sword aloft in a triumphant pose. 'Join the Meridellian Royal Knavy!' proclaimed the words above it; the Shoyru hoped, for sanity's sake, that it was an innocent mistake. In significantly smaller type at the bottom, he noticed, 'At least three years' prior experience required'.
Needless to say, this was not what he was looking for. It was not what anyone was looking for, but him least of all. He was looking for a prospective audience, and he would purchase it with talent.
And – ah! Here he was. This being his first day of his first visit to Central City, he hadn't known his way around. But, well before noontime – how bright noon was here! – he had found the perfect place, the wide-open square he had set out for in the beginning. Flying was impossible in the marketplace at daytime, unless you were willing to brave the traffic to get where you wanted to go; you would be lucky to get off with only a few broken bones at this time of the day. By sheer chance, it seemed, emerging from a maze of deserted alleyways, he found himself among parents with children, people alone or with friends, relatives, siblings; none in a hurry to go anywhere, and no-one else in a hurry to stop them as he was.
The child musician ran to the middle of the square, hovering in his excitement. He pulled a small ring from one pocket – a cheap conjuring ring, professed to be good for a hundred uses, though he had doubted it would last five. Like many Neopets, he had enough spare life-force – one and the same with magic – stored in his body to utilise its eight-cubic-metre storage capacity. It would do until he could get one of the proper, self-powering ones that had actually come from a factory, as opposed to a rummage in a rubbish dump.
He rubbed the surface of the tiny embedded gemstone, and focused. It wasn't long before a full-sized grand piano in perfect condition materialised in front of him. He hopped up onto the seat, paused for a moment to check it was in working order, and began to play.
The notes sounded across the square, turning heads and filling minds. The melody resonated with different memories for each person, reminding them of their homes, the warmth of fires and the gentleness of a mother's touch. The Shop Wizard, not too far away, recalled days when he was a little fluffball too small for his hat,when he was bullied and beaten until he cried, but his mother would sing to him and cradle him until he felt better. The Soup Faerie felt again the coziness of a belly full of broth and a bed of leaves. A guard on patrol remembered the plight of his dear father, and broke down and cried.
Then the music rose, banishing the past, dancing gleefully through the air, and singing of the sun's light, the tinkling of stream water, the freedom of flight and the years of life there are to live; higher and stronger, full of grace and majesty, the promise of the future and the cosmic dance of the stars. There was no magic in this music, but the music was magic – for how else would a mere sequence of vibrations in the air become what it was on the inside of people's heads?
Then the last note, alone, but because of what came before it one of happiness and sorrow, beauty and change. And then it ended.
The Shoyru was tactful enough not to leave a begging bowl, which would have completely ruined the effect; or maybe he was too proud. They would come after him in the end, anyway, requesting, offering, begging him to take their money in exchange for his service. In any case, he wasn't after money alone. He wanted people to hear.
Aware that the crowd's eyes were on him all the same, he stood up on his seat and bowed as gracefully as he could. There was applause.
Word would get around, he was sure. As he began an encore, he imagined the looks on his parents' faces when they saw how successful he had become.
It was only late at night that the last lingering listeners went home. As he navigated the now empty sky by the light of the moon, spiralling outwards in aerial circles looking for the Neolodge, someone tapped him on the shoulder. Since this is usually impossible to do in midflight, he dropped instinctively about three metres before turning to see who or what it was.
A dark faerie with rather disheveled hair smiled at him.
The Shoyru was well aware of the temperament of faeries of the dark. Next to the Haunted Woods, the bottom of the sea was the most common location for the banishing of the ones who misbehaved. You didn't often see them here in Central. Apart from the other obvious facts, and an old book which had told him that they were 'in the old times called the fairie, and less often the fae' this was pretty much all he knew about them. Mundane tactics of any sort useless for fighting magic in single combat, so even if he were a battle pet he would be in something of a fix. Whatever he had done wrong, he had no idea, but he doubted protesting would be wise, and besides, he was struck dumb.
This was, as it were, one of the more powerful of the Dark, though he wasn't to know it. “Really, what a naughty little child,” she said. “Disturbing my beauty sleep. You kept me awake all day with that din. I shall have to punish you.” She frowned. “But that stuck-up queen will know if it's something extravagant. Ah! I know.”
She snapped her fingers. The terrified Shoyru was enveloped by choking purple smoke. The faerie focused, her eyes flashing purple, and both the Shoyru and the smoke were gone.
The faerie yawned. “All this space-folding is making me even more tired. I'd better catch up on my sleep while I can.”
In the slightly disoriented and very nauseous way of those who have been teleported by Dark power, particularly after a tasty meal, the green Shoyru woke up. And, in the way of those terrified by their new surroundings, he was immediately awake, because there was no mistaking where he was.
The depths of the creaking, decaying, Werelupe-filled, sentiently sadistic, and most of all haunted Haunted Woods. It was said the no-one ever got out both sane and alive, and that was true, but you heard stories. And in Neopia, stories have a peculiar habit of being true.
The Woods were rather crowded in the residential areas. Folk there grew wise early. There is no such thing as 'safe'. There were rules, and these were just a few of them: Never be alone. Never go out at night. And at home, sleep in shifts. You learned to do what your elders told you to, because only those who survived grew old. You grew up quick of mind and quicker of feet. You really, really stayed away from strangers...
That was in the towns, where the lanterns of faeriefire kept the worst of them away. There was a name for people who ventured outside the border or broke the rules, whether willingly or unwillingly, and that was 'missing, presumed dead'.
Incidentally, he was home and there were several good reasons he had left to seek his fortunes in Central City. And he was understandably terrified when he saw the figure all in white, white clothes, white fur, white umbrella, facing away from him.
To be continued...